Writing in Place
Everyone has experienced this last year of pandemic differently. I am a healthcare worker, as is my husband, and our local group of friends. I cannot speak for anyone else, but for me, it’s been a double-edged sword.
Initially, I was laid off last March for a month. I am an echocardiographer—I do ultrasounds of the heart. Since outpatients were cancelled, they only needed one tech, and that wasn’t me. I took the entire month off of everything—writing, editing, marketing. I did yoga and took long walks with my toddler, whom we pulled from daycare. I look back on the time as almost an idyll: no expectations from anyone (including myself), no one wanting anything from me or my family. We stayed in place. I was able to put down a great deal of anxiety and pressure.
But then it was clear this was going to be the new way of things. I had a book to finish. Many of the older hospital personnel quit or retired. The lead echocardiographer took an extended health leave to protect himself. The hospital asked if I could work more, take more call. Anything to help out—it felt like more than obligation; it was duty.
I still had a great deal left to do on my book, and my original timeline—to put it out in August 2020—seemed not just unobtainable, it seemed laughably ludicrous. The first draft was three-quarters done, and I needed to write low-angst, given the high-angst world I was living in. The environment of THE BOXER AND THE BLACKSMITH is high stakes and brutal. I couldn’t make the love story between Os and Bess break apart just so I could put it back together. They didn’t deserve that. They deserved something easy, after the profoundly difficult world they lived in. Like the profoundly difficult environment I found myself living in.
Cleanliness is a Job
For two months last summer, there would be about eight hours of any given week where either my husband or I were not on call/working. We swapped out shifts so that the other could take care of the toddler, since childcare seemed too dangerous. We waited. I confronted friends online about mask-wearing behavior, about death rates, about long term survivorship. Because coming home from work meant a twenty-minute decontamination routine.
Enter the house at the back utility room. Take off shoes before entering, door remains open. Wash hands thoroughly to elbows. Then take two Lysol wipes to wipe down everything in pockets and ID badge. Wipe everything from inside tote bag. Discard wipes. New wipe to wipe down door handle, sink handles, shoes. Strip down naked, everything goes directly into wash, including tote bag. Hustle to the shower—don’t touch anything. Wash thoroughly, scrubbing hair, which remained uncovered in the hospital hallways, bathrooms, eating areas, and unconfirmed patient rooms.
If I was willing to do all that to protect my family, why couldn’t anyone else bother to wear a mask in the grocery store?
At work, I went into confirmed Covid rooms, even as PPE requirements changed from week to week. I cared for those patients in my capacity. I fought for them.
Just like my heroine in THE BOXER AND THE BLACKSMITH, Bess, fought for the vulnerable Violet. And for Os. And for her own little family of Tony and John.
By August, I was a wreck. I had finished my manuscript, sent it out for critiques, and was in search of sensitivity readers. I had been working twelve hour shifts on weekends. My husband took call almost every week night—excepting the week nights I took call. I took socially distanced night walks with a friend who also worked in healthcare, and we would obsess about new cases, new studies, new numbers, new protocols like others gossiped about love affairs.
Also in August, I sent out my manuscript to two sensitivity readers.
By September or maybe October, the hospital was able to hire a traveling (non-permanent) echo tech to help us out. I didn’t have to work quite so much. I had hard conversations with my sensitivity readers. I researched some more, triple-checked my facts. Just before November, I sent the manuscript to a copyeditor—pushing the red button. A copy editor is no cheap endeavor, but they are worth every penny.
It felt like everything was coming together.
The week before Thanksgiving, I was called in for a pediatric echo on a weekend. Nothing new. I wore all the appropriate PPE. The family was unmasked, but I didn’t think anything of it. There was an email saying that healthcare workers could finally go somewhere convenient for the biweekly Covid screening.
On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I had my Little Dude with me for my screening. It was everything I could do to stand there, swathed in plastic with a long Q-Tip shoved up my nose, while my child ran around like…well…like a three-year-old.
Then it was Thanksgiving, and my parents were coming to the house, as we had long ago “podded up” with them. My mom made a delicious lemon rosemary cocktail for me, and wanted to taste it, so she shared my glass.
Friday morning, my parents got up and ready to go. My husband left for surgery, I kissed him on the lips to say goodbye.
At nine a.m., I got a phone call telling me I was Covid positive. I called my husband at surgery to tell him the news, so that he could protect others as thoroughly as possible. I kicked my parents out with explicit instructions to go nowhere and see no one.
I cried. I was scared that I had killed my parents.
Slowly over the next few days, symptoms came on—runny nose, headache. But it took well after the two weeks for the full impact to hit. Extreme fatigue, brain fog, unable to get/stay warm. The book was mostly done, but I couldn’t read it for mistakes. A friend was able to check the print version for me. I couldn’t manage a book launch or many review sites. I had to take notes during everyday conversations to keep track of the topic. Eventually, I asked my husband to take FMLA leave because I couldn’t watch my toddler by myself—I struggled to stay conscious.
My silver lining was that no one got sick from me. Not my husband whom I had kissed, not my mother with whom I’d shared a drink, not my toddler who licks my arms.
Since the Pandemic
THE BOXER AND THE BLACKSMITH came out February 1, exactly a year after A LADY’S REVENGE. What a difference a year makes.
I lost a friend to Covid. My husband lost an aunt. Others have lost more. Covid symptoms continue to creep up on me, and I still haven’t returned to “normal,” despite two vaccines and five months post-infection.
But I no longer battle with the all-over hives, or the left-sided face acne, and the fatigue is starting to become easier to manage (I know the “before” symptoms well enough to make a plan in advance). I feel like I’ve been in the trenches with my shovel, head down, tossing out dirt over my shoulder, only to look up ask, This is it? All this work, and that’s all we could manage?
I know it could always be worse. And that’s why Bess needed her happily-ever-after. She deserved love and contentment after so much dirt.
And right now, doesn’t it feel like we all deserve that? That we shoveled and coped and cried and masked and zoomed and gardened and baked our way to something that should be—by all the rules of quests—a magical happily ever after?
So I’m writing a romantic comedy. Fingers crossed it stays that way.
Edie Cay writes award-winning feminist Regency Romance about women’s boxing and relatable misfits. She is a member of the Regency Fiction Writers, the Historical Novel Society, ALLi, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can drop her a line on Facebook and Instagram @authorediecay.